Abdoulaye Wade had been a veteran opposition leader, proving a thorn in the sides of the people he eventually succeeded as president of Senegal: Leopold Sedar Senghor and Abdou Diouf, both of then ruling Socialist Party. Today, Wade is proving himself to be the villain, intent on bringing chaos to an oasis of stability in an otherwise troubled region.
The Social Democratic Party, which he founded in 1974, propelled him to victory after almost three decades in opposition, defeating Diouf in a runoff election in March 2000. His victory was no mean feat, considering that the Socialist party had been in power since independence in 1960. In a gesture very rare in Africa, Diouf not only accepted defeat but congratulated Wade on his victory
Since he became president, he championed positive causes, like canvassing for African unity and African renaissance; played an important role in the establishment of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), along with Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. He soon veered into controversies, however. He commissioned the African Renaissance Monument, a giant bronze statue outside Dakar built by the North Koreans at a cost of 27 million dollars. His critics rightly condemned Wade’s conduct as a symbol of his proclivity for delusions of grandeur.
Having tasted power, Wade, a septuagenarian, is trying to perpetuate his rule in Senegal. He is set to join the dubious rank of sit-tight leaders in Africa, thereby tarnishing Senegal’s reputation as the most stable and democratic country in West Africa. He should not be allowed to have his way. His decision to run for a third term in office by contesting the next week’s presidential election has raised the political temperature in Senegal leading to violent protests led by a coalition of opposition groups including the M23, ‘Y’en A Mar (“We are fed up”) and members of civil society organisations.
On June 23, 2011, protests were held outside the national assembly against Wade’s proposals to amend the constitution by reducing the threshold for victory in a presidential race from 50 to 25 percent of the votes cast and to create the position of vice president, for a position for which his son Abdulkarim, was widely tipped. Thousands of people poured into the streets of Dakar calling on him to resign. Many people were injured in clashes with the security forces. He was forced to abandon the proposals.
As if that was not enough, he then came up with the idea of his running for a third term for which his party had endorsed him. The current constitution which came into effect in 2001 stipulates two terms for the president. Wade’s spurious and self-serving argument is that since he was elected in 2000 a year before the promulgation of the constitution, and is entitled to a third term under the old constitution which did not prescribe term limits.
The recent ruling of the Constitutional Court consisting of five judges appointed by Wade, that he is eligible to run at the same time barring one of the strongest contenders, the musician Youssou Ndour, from running, triggered a fresh wave of protests at the Place de L’Obelisque in Dakar. One student of Cheikh Anta Diop University was killed during the protests.
Wade ought to have learnt some lessons from the fate that befell obstinate leaders like Mamadou Tandja, erstwhile president of Niger Republic, whose and brazen attempt to prolong his stay in power led him to dissolve the constitutional court and the national assembly to pave way for a third term, only for him to be overthrown by the army. Senegal has never had a military coup. Wade’s current course could plunge Senegal into chaos.
Opposition groups are insisting that Wade must withdraw his candidature and not contest the next election, but, that seems unlikely. He is bent on contesting again. Members of the opposition should band together and present a united front by choosing a single candidate from their midst to contest against Wade in the election to be held on the 26th of February. It is possible that what they failed to get at the barricades, they may achieve at the ballot box. A fragmented opposition will make it easier for Wade to realise his inordinate ambition. The African Union should be wary of the unfolding scenario in a member country and persuade Wade to abandon his overarching ambition.